Cinematic Releases: A Puzzle That is Missing a Few Pieces: Suburbicon (2017) - Reviewed

 Suburbicon (2017) is a strange animal. It tries to embrace too many ideas without putting in the work to lay down a solid foundation. Since it was written by Joel and Ethan Coen (and directed by George Clooney), it has that quirky crime/comedy mixture they like to do, but unlike most of their other scripts, the pieces of the story don't quite fit together as well as they should.

The story centers around Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) a business man who lives in the idyllic '50s town of Suburbicon with his nuclear family. When a tragedy befalls them, it is up to him to address the fallout and deal with the perpetrators. This alone would be an interesting premise, but there is a parallel story thread concerning the first black family that moves into the previously all white town that is simmering in the background as well.

The biggest issue that the film has is all of the characters are underwritten. It feels like Suburbicon begins in the middle of the second act and there is almost no attempt to establish the setting or flesh out the characters. Though they start the film out with a kitschy newsreel to explain how Suburbicon is the perfect place to raise a family, that atmosphere is not explored at all in the rest of the film. It's similar to the concept of Pleasantville (1998) but with none of the depth or nuance. They try to address racial issues as well, with the town reacting violently to the arrival of a black family, but it's constantly pushed to the side. There is something unsettling about using a race riot as window dressing and not addressing the ramifications directly within the film. I see what they were trying to do, which is show how the town considers black people to be the cause of its downfall when it's actually the white citizens, but they don't convey it well enough which makes it useless as an allegory. The racial themes are marginalized both in the actual story and on a meta level in the structure of the plot. 

On both the visual and aural front Suburbicon is excellent, and it fully commits to the '50s aesthetic. Many of the shots utilize clever framing techniques and the costumes and props are spot on. The music, by composer Alexandre Desplat, invokes a retro feel and uses an orchestra to full effect. He has the music cues perfectly matching what is going on in the scene which you don't hear as often in modern films. The acting is great from everyone involved, especially from Julianne Moore who plays twin sisters, one of which is married to Gardner. If the writing had been a tad tighter this could have been a classic film, but unfortunately the film falls apart quite a bit in the predictable third act. Suburbicon feels like diet Coens--the taste is similar but ultimately inferior.

--Michelle Kisner